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Lots of (Pot)Luck

Dude, where's my recipe?



After attending far too many potlucks and holiday meals, one thing I can tell you is to be very, very careful if you're invited to an Egyptian dinner party.

It's a long story, but trust me. For one thing, at an Egyptian dinner party, the last thing that happens is dinner. Before that come hours of drinking, dancing, laughing, and nibbling. And the nibbling is the second reason to be careful, because the other guests may or may not tell you what you're nibbling on.

Case in point: Some little fried patties showed up on the table, and everybody went crazy. They said I must eat one. I asked what it was, and they said something in Arabic. Young and drunk as I was, that was good enough, so I ate a patty. I recall it being squishy. They all celebrated, and then someone said, "This is the brains of a sheep!" Well, okay.

A few drinks later, out came more fried patties and another Arabic name. This time I insisted: What is it? "This," someone said, "is the testicles of the same sheep!" And so it is that I can tell you a sheep's balls taste just like its brain.

Another thing I can tell you is that if you are planning a potluck, make sure somebody brings real food. This might seem like a no-brainer, but one July 4th, I led a sunset outing for a hiking club, and I called it a "dessert potluck." Made sense to me: sunset, dessert, nice view, hiking. Problem was, we met at 5, started hiking at 6, gorged on sweets about 8, then watched the sun go down. Note the distinct absence of dinner.

If nothing else, you do hike pretty fast if all you eat is chocolate mousse, cookies, apple pie, brownies, and ice cream. Yes, somebody brought ice cream on a July 4th hike, packed in dry ice and served with homemade brownies. He's never been seen again but remains a legend in the hiking club.

The thing about being a dude at these things is that expectations are really, really low. It's like when I — a single, self-employed writer with no clothing taste whatsoever — decide for some reason (usually female) to wear pants and a shirt that have been ironed. I spend all day hearing things like "Don't you look nice?" and other, less pleasant remarks.

It's the same with potlucks. If a dude shows up with something other than chips and salsa, he's practically a hero. I can tell you what would happen: raised eyebrows, people leaning back a little bit, and a barrage of statements like, "Well, look at you!" That's what happened, ad nauseum, the time I made Sri Wasano's Infamous Indonesian Rice Salad. It was from one of the Moosewood cookbooks, it had 20 ingredients, it took hours, and I have no idea who Sri Wasano is. The salad was mind-bending. People lined up for it. Women swooned. And I'll never make it again.

These days, I bake. People think baking is some sort of magic act or chemistry experiment. Nothing could be further from the truth. You just do exactly what the recipe says, don't mess with it, and it'll be "Well, look at you!"

I'll leave you with a piece of advice and a recipe. The recipe is for Steve's Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies — and I know, that's a very "dude" recipe to share. I was going to give you the outrageous sweet-potato buttermilk pie recipe from the Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, but there's something in the front about writing for permission, and I am afraid of attorneys. So it's Steve's cookies, which seem to make people go nuts every time. And by the way, Steve is a buddy of mine, and I have no idea where he stole the recipe.

Now for the advice: My friends and I have had a great time with holiday potlucks by asking everybody to bring a traditional dish from their family. In my case, that's Oysters Ernie, another long story and one that has nothing to do with sheep brains.

Steve's Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies

Use Nestlé, Ghirardelli, or Guittard chocolate chips, in that order of preference. (Steve says Nestlé tastes better, but I say "I made it with Guittard chocolate" sounds better.)

Combine and set aside 3 rounded cups whole-wheat flour, 1 tsp baking soda, and 1 tsp salt. Cream together two sticks of softened unsalted butter, 1-1/3 cups of sugar, and 2/3 cup of dark brown sugar. Add two eggs and 1-1/2 tsp of vanilla. Mix this together, but don't overmix it. Mix in the dry ingredients, then add 2 cups (1 bag) semi-sweet chocolate chips, 1 cup milk chocolate chips, and 1 cup chopped walnuts, which you might want to toast a little first. Bake at 325 degrees for 12 to 13 minutes, until they look like they'll be ready in a minute or so.

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